Understanding mental illness

A guide to common mental health conditions and some of the signs and symptoms

Living with a mental health diagnosis does not define who you are you as a person. A mental health condition should not be a label for other people to describe you by.

But it can be helpful to know about the symptoms of a mental illness, to better understand what someone may be going through. It may help identify the kind of treatment and support that you, or they, may need.

Being aware of how a mental health disorder can affect our outlook, emotions or behaviour may help you to be kinder to yourself, or care for someone who is living with a mental health condition.

In this section, you can find information about some of the most common mental health problems and disorders. If you recognise symptoms and need help, seek advice from your GP.

If you’re feeling alone, you can turn to us. You don’t need a diagnosis, referral or appointment to access mental health support and friendship at Make a Difference.

Pink Clouds


What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural response to stressful situations, worries or uncertainty, from butterflies in the stomach, to sleeplessness or the feeling you cannot breathe.


Often, these feelings go away when we've confronted or dealt with a problem. You may feel you need help and support  if these symptoms stay with you.

Bipolar disorder

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar is a mental health condition that is typically identified by cycles of extreme highs, known as 'manic' or 'hypomanic' episodes. These may be followed by a phase of depression.

There is more than one type of bipolar disorder. This condition used to be known as manic depression.


What is depression?

Depression is a mental health condition that can make you feel unhappy, tired, numb, or as though all the colour in your life has turned grey.


Upsetting or stressful situations and setbacks can make everyone grieve, feel sad, low, or distressed. But you may have depression if your low mood doesn’t improve or lift, and these feelings becomes something you’re living with, over weeks or months.


Life after bereavement

Bereavement can be life-changing. It can take a long time to come to terms with our loss when someone dies, and to process our thoughts and feelings.
There is no time limit to grieving the loss of someone you loved, or overcoming emotions connected with the death of someone you had a difficult relationship with.

OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

What is OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental health condition which can make someone think about worries or things that frighten them, over and over again.

Someone with OCD may perform rituals to help manage their anxiety or seek constant reassurance from others. These impulses and behaviours can inhibit how you live your life, or affect relationships with other people.

Personality Disorders

What is a personality disorder?

Lots of things make us individual, but the ways in which we think, feel and respond to other people have things in common, too.

In some people, the personality traits that inform the way most others think, feel and behave, can seem different. They may be quicker to anger, excessively emotional, dramatic, distant or seem cold. 

If this impacts on your own life or the emotional wellbeing of other people, you may feel you need help and support.

PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

What is PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a long-term mental health condition and response to a severe and harrowing experience, or events.

PTSD is most commonly associated with people who have served in the Armed Forces. But the majority – around 95 per cent – of people who are diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, come from other walks of life.

What is schizophrenia?


Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that affects how someone’s brain distinguishes the difference between thoughts, ideas and reality.

Many thoughts, perceptions and beliefs can seem very real or frightening to someone with a schizophrenia diagnosis. But they do not cause people diagnosed with the disorder to be violent or have a ‘split personality.’

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

What is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is sometimes known as the winter blues or winter depression.

It’s a mental health condition that most commonly affects people during times of year when they are exposed to little natural sunlight.

People who work nights or irregular shifts or nights can also experience a similar kind of depression.


What is stress?

Stress is a physical and emotional condition, which can affect our mind, body and health.

Stress is a natural response to situations and challenges we meet and have to face in life.

Meeting targets or deadlines and carrying out the many things we have to juggle at home and work, can make everyone feel stressed.

If it begins to feel too much to cope with, you may need help and support.